Compost Tea and Chloramine

nickrosesnJuly 30, 2013

In the next week I'll be making compost tea. First I will be using filtered water that my dad also uses for his Reef tank so the chloramine in the tea it self is not a problem. My worry is with the watering that will happen the following week with with water from the garden hose. Will the garden hose water be killing the microbes that I have put into the garden?

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It shouldn't be a problem, unless possibly you're starting with completely sterile soil largely devoid of organic matter.

There should be well more microbes naturally present in your garden than any you will add by compost tea. Chloramine is present in municipal waters in very small amounts, and it will readily decompose when it contacts about anything organic in the soil, so when you irrigate with chloraminated water the residual chloramine is rapidly destroyed. The microbes in your soil and compost will hardly be affected in number, and if your soil is reasonably healthy from an organic view any loss will be rapidly replaced. I use treated municipal water for everything - irrigation, wetting compost, etc. - and my soil is teaming with life and my compost has never shown any sign of being affected.

Still, many have concerns, and if you're in that group an in-line carbon filter system will largely eliminate the residual chloramine. Just change the filter periodically based upon the manufacturer's rated capacity and your usage. One very simple screw-on filter can be added for about $40, and it's rated for 10,000 gallons.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2013 at 8:38AM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

using the water that has been filtered for a reef tank means either reverse osmosis or more likely deionized water. That has to be the most absolutely unnecessarily wasteful use of water I can think of. RO produces 4x the amount of wastewater as filtered water and DI is just pointless. Carbon filtration is all that is necessary and you don't even need to do that in order to make ACT.

But more importantly, why are you making ACT? If the answer is anything other than to make a dilute liquid fertilizer, you might as well just topdress with compost. The act of watering will make your tea in situ and you won't waste electricity on an air pump.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2013 at 11:25AM
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Agree with nil13 on the utility of compost tea.

The benefits of compost tea are largely anecdotal, advanced by practitioners. Attempts to reproduce the claimed benefits via well controlled research studies have been hit and miss, but mostly miss.

The whole idea behind compost tea is to culture the microorganisms that inhabit compost. My sense has long been that they do their best in their natural environment, not in a typical compost tea medium, and then after supposedly being cultured being sent to live in soil with the subsequent abrupt environmental change. I've long thought that the best use of compost is to put it into or on top of soil.

Before you decide to go through the process and invest the effort and resources, I encourage to carefully go through the presentation from Kentucky State University.

Here is a link that might be useful: Compost Tea - Kentucky State University

    Bookmark   July 31, 2013 at 12:16PM
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I thought I was reading that you need to use water that is free of both chlorine and chloramine, it would kill off any microbs that you are trying to make with compost tea.

I'll be using a 20 gallon trash can to make the tea. If I put in 4 or more inches of compost and the water with molasses and aerate, wouldn't that possibly make the same amount of microbes as several large bags of compost?

It seems like Harvard is seeing benefits from using ACT:

This post was edited by NickRose on Wed, Jul 31, 13 at 17:22

    Bookmark   July 31, 2013 at 2:24PM
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Chloramine in water is readily decomposed by natural organic matter in the water - any oxidizable organic matter. One very well known advocate for the benefits of compost tea teaches treating municipal chloraminated water with 1 teaspoon of humic acid per 100 gals of water to destroy any residual chloramine (and that is likely plenty of overkill). That amounts to ~ 50 mg of humic acid per gallon of water treated. If the compost you will be using is ~ 50% moisture, then 1 tablespoon will represent ~ 8 grams of organic material. If even only one tenth of that were oxidizable (and it is mostly oxidizable OM) that 1 tablespoon would be well more than enough to eliminate the chloramine in 15 gals of water pretty easily.

First, what grows in the tea will probably not be representative of the diversity and relative amounts of what's in the compost - that has been established from several studies. Second, the microbial population that you develop in a culture medium doesn't translate to the viability of whatever is cultured in the soil once transferred. When you apply the tea to soil, the nutrient broth is very quickly lost. The microorganisms need a food source to survive and develop. So what will they eat now?

If you want to increase the microbial population density in your soil provide the soil with a food source for the microbes, meaning organic matter they can digest. They will optimally populate the soil based upon the organic matter, pH, oxygen level, moisture, etc. One of the easiest, fastest and most conservative ways to do that is by adding compost to the soil.

As for results, I will stick to well controlled studies. As I noted earlier, in controlled studies results have been hit and miss, but with ACT mostly miss.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2013 at 6:01PM
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What if I did a combination of compost mixed into the dirt and as mulch and then add the compost tea? I guess it just comes down to experiment and see what works. I mean really that is one part of being a gardener. Take my experiment with seeds from a grocery tomato. Most of the plants are 5'8" and have several sets of tomatoes.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2013 at 6:12PM
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Nick - your resources would really be better utilized if you put all of the compost in the soil, and then kept it properly irrigated. As best I can see, there is no clear benefit that comes from developing a liquid culture from compost and applying it to soil relative to just adding the compost to the soil. But, there are a number of potential hazards (see the presentation linked above). There is also the resource consumption without benefit, but for the average gardener it is such a small bit that it is generally missed and forgotten.

As for your seed experiment, from what I've seen most market tomatoes are modern hybrids. It will be interesting to see what your plants yield. A good breeder with knowledge of the market cultivar that the seeds came from could probably tell you, in advance, what you'll be getting. I have lots of tomato volunteers in my garden from seeds that came from fallen fruit and those that, after passing through the kitchen, lived through composting I know, however, that they most likely won't be true to the hybrids from which they came (all six varieties of the tomatoes I grow are hybrids), so they get eliminated as weeds.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2013 at 6:41PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

IIRC, Harvard uses ACT on lawns where compost would be unsightly. Like I said, it is a dilute organic fertilizer, so using it as an organic lawn fert makes sense.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 11:14AM
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If what you want is a dilute organic fertilizer, there is no need to go through the fermentation process, and adding molasses, kelp, fish stuff, etc. Just take the compost and stir it into water, let is sit a few hours with an occasional stir, then apply the extract to whatever.

The real utility of a compost extract is exactly what nil3 pointed out - it allows for the use of the nutrients extracted from compost AND any water soluble organic materials with the attendant microbial flora/fauna to areas, like public use turf lawns, where compost can't be added to the soil directly, or top dressing with compost would be either impractical or troublesome.

This post was edited by TXEB on Thu, Aug 1, 13 at 12:24

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 11:59AM
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Organic fertilizer is what I was going to use it as. Since I guess I wont go with ACT I wont use a 20 gallon trash can. So how much will a 5 gallon bucket cover?

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 2:48PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

TX, I think that while the fermentation process is unnecessary, the act of aeration is really just functioning as a stirring mechanism to keep more compost suspended in solution thus increasing the surface area available for extraction.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 4:37PM
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My choices for water in brewing compost tea.

1) rain water
2) tap water aerated for three days or more outside

Your water supplier can tell you if it is currently using free chlorine or chloramine. Many will switch back and forth during the year.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 5:03PM
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nil - while the aeration no doubt provides agitation, it is actually essential for the growth of aerobic microorganisms -- think about biological oxygen demand. I have no doubt that, done properly, the liquid culture is absolutely teaming with anything microbial that was added - not just from the compost, but from the nutrient additions (they are hardly sterile) and the air itself. In the absence of aeration a very different microbial development will take place, dominated by anaerobes.

Nick - not sure what you're asking -- 5 gal's of what, covering I'm not sure what?

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 5:37PM
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TXEB- 5 gallons of the compost and water you talked about. I would like to use it around the whole garden. I have a 35' row of rose bushes, 6 tomato plants in the ground, watermelons, lemon tree, 4'x6' of Bell Peppers, etc.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 6:10PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

Nick, why not just add compost to the beds? It would be much easier and add more nutrients than can be extracted.

TX, I understand the process. I'm just saying that aeration can be used in place of stirring. It's sort of a poor mans mag stirrer.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 7:04PM
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I'm going to have to do some experiments. With most of the garden I will just put down the compost itself. The experiment will be with the Bell peppers I'm growing. Since I have two rows of Bell peppers, I will do one with with just a dressing of compost and the other side with aerated compost tea.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 8:10PM
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Nick - a good mix for compost extraction would be 5-10% by weight of compost in water. Five gal. of proper compost should weigh in about 25 lbs, water is 8.3 lbs/gal, so at 10% compost by weight you would shoot for 250 lbs net, which would be 225 lbs of water, which is about 27 gal's of water. For 5% just double the water.

That said, I'm with nil - the better application would be to just portion out the compost around the plants - cultivate it into the top couple of inches of soil where you can, use it as a mulch where you can't - and then irrigate normally. It will provide lasting benefits that way, and you'll get everything out of it.

A couple of questions - are you planning on straining the extract to remove the solids before applying the liquid? If so, what do you plan to do with the solids? If not, why complicate the application with a slurry?

This post was edited by TXEB on Thu, Aug 1, 13 at 20:41

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 8:14PM
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I was going to strain the extract and the solids would be used as mulch.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 9:37PM
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So I'm sure you saw this coming - why not just apply the compost as a mulch then irrigate over top?

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 10:06PM
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I had that one coming. Like I said I'll amend in the compost with the whole garden and do the experiment with the bell peppers of using compost tea with one half and using regular compost on the other. If I see a difference with compost tea then I will go that direction but if I don't which from this thread I wont, then I will just amend in the compost throughout the year.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 11:34PM
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    Bookmark   August 2, 2013 at 2:10AM
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Nick - please let us know how your tea vs. compost experiment works. Maybe we'll all learn something.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2013 at 10:40AM
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I will keep you guys updated. You can also see my tomato experiment at the link. The tallest tomato is 79".

    Bookmark   August 2, 2013 at 3:58PM
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Since I first read about compost tea I wondered the benefits of it over working it into the soil of the garden. Now I see there isn't much if any in that application.

Now in potted house plants perhaps.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2013 at 11:30PM
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Compost tea certainly helps the soil biology. See the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham for scientific data. She accomplished so much while heading up the Rodale Institute team. Compost tea is preferable in many cases simply because enough compost to accomplish the job is often not available. Also, teas can be readily applied as a foliar feed. The affect of spraying can be easily viewed by taking soil samples on a regular basis and examining with a microscope. Simply take counts of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa before and after.

Plants supply the exudates which feed the bacteria. You can throw down some dry molasses if you are concerned about them running out of food.

This post was edited by Havyn on Fri, Jul 25, 14 at 17:58

    Bookmark   July 25, 2014 at 5:10PM
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